CHICAGO (CBS) -- Rental car companies are increasingly adding electric vehicles to their fleets. Hertz alone has, so far, bought 56,000. But these cars can have unique challenges for drivers. One mother and daughter found out the hard way while on a trip to look at several colleges around the country.
Becky Liebau and her 16 year old daughter, from the Village of Gurnee, found themselves trapped on the side of a road when their electric rental car died. They were trapped inside the vehicle too.
"We go to open the door and the car doors won't open," said Liebau. "The doors were locked."
No help came.
"I have never driven an electric vehicle and it would not have been my first choice," said Liebau. "It was quite the disaster."
The problem started when a Hertz rental agent told her they overbooked and all they had left was an electric vehicle. She had reserved a gas-powered sedan.
"He said, 'The only thing I have is a Tesla. It's the only other car, otherwise we have nothing here. Do you want to take this Tesla'," said Liebau.
This happened at closing time. Liebau was stranded, desperate and took the Tesla. She had never driven an electric vehicle.
"My daughter was using her phone to Google how to operate the car overall," said Liebau adding the car was not ready for driving.
The tires needed air and Liebau soon learned the battery was less than half way charged.
"I know it had 90-some miles and that was it," she said.
The pair were driving mostly in rural areas and could not find any Tesla charging stations. They found other types of charging stations, but those required a special adapter. Hertz never provided one. As they continued to search for a Tesla station, the car went completely dead.
Liebau said they were locked inside the vehicle and called the Hertz roadside assistance number for help. But they didn't get any.
"I did not feel that Hertz helped us at all through this situation," said Liebau.
The next trouble - their cell phones were about to go dead. They ended up using the battery power from a laptop in their luggage to charge one cell phone and call their own tow truck driver. Meanwhile, they were still stuck inside the car.
"We couldn't get out of the car," said Liebau. "Nothing works in the vehicle at all. We were locked in the car. You couldn't turn lights on, there was no functionality."
Finally the tow truck they called showed up. The driver told Liebau about a button she needed to press to get out of the car.
"I ended up having to crawl out the trunk, when he told me about the release button in the back," said Liebau.
The tow truck driver drove the mother and daughter to a nearby hotel. There were no rideshares or taxis operating in the area. So, the next morning Liebau paid the hotel maintenance man to drive them across the state.
As bad as all this was, the Hertz and other unexpected bills totaling about a thousand dollars - made it even worse.
"I started getting monthly invoices from Hertz," said Liebau who refused to pay.
She says the company took her to collections. Then tried to ban her from renting a car.
"I got a letter from them a couple days later saying I would no longer be able to rent from Hertz," said Liebau about being added to a do-not-rent list.
That is when she turned to the CBS 2 Investigators for help. Hertz then quickly changed its position and refunded all the money Liebau lost.
"Extremely frustrated," Liebau says about this whole experience. "What was supposed to be a fun visit, turned out to be quire scary and knowing any number of things could have happened along the way."
In a phone call, a Hertz spokesperson apologized for Liebau's experience and admitted a number of things went wrong - including giving her an electric car without an adapter. The spokesperson also said an adapter costs about $250, and often go missing and are targeted by thieves.
Customer service is our top priority at Hertz and we strive to provide our customers with a vehicle that meets their needs and preferences. As the transition to electric vehicles continues, we understand that some customers may be driving an EV for the first time, and so we provide robust digital content and other resources to help them feel comfortable on the road. We regret this customer's experience did not meet our service standards and have refunded all charges and provided reimbursement for related travel expenses.
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